A Winning Streak & A Triumphant Return Headline College XC National Athlete of the Week Picks
NEW ORLEANS – One won his second race in the past two weeks. One returned triumphantly to the cross country trails for the first time in two years. Whatever their circurmstances, excellent performances were the common thread between the National Athletes of the Week for NCAA cross country announced Monday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).
UTEP’s Anthony Rotich claimed the men’s Division I award for the second time in his career after winning his second race in as many weeks, while Erin Statz of St. Thomas (Minn.) took the Division III women’s award after finishing sixth overall at Augustana (S.D.) in her first cross country race since earning All-American status in 2012.
Rachele Schulist of Michigan State claimed the women’s Division I award with a statement win at Oregon’s Bill Dellinger Invitational, while Division DII’s men’s and women’s awards went to Keifer Johnson of Western State and Delainey Phelps of Ashland. Hart Hornor of Carleton earned the Division III men’s award.
Find out more about each of their performances this weekend by clicking their names or scrolling below.
National Athlete of the Week is an award selected and presented by the USTFCCCA Communications Staff at the beginning of each week to six collegiate cross country athletes (male and female for each of the three NCAA divisions).
Nominations are open to the public. Coaches and sports information directors are encouraged to nominate their student-athletes; as are student-athletes, their families and friends, and fans of their programs.
The award seeks to highlight not only the very best times, marks and scores on a week-to-week basis, but also performances that were significant on the national landscape and/or the latest in a series of strong outings. Quality of competition, suspenseful finishes and other factors will also play a role in the decision.
Beginning next week, all three NCAA Divisions will be recognized. The NCAA Division II cross country season doesn’t begin until later this week.
Junior | Nairobi, Kenya
For dominating a field that included national No. 17 New Mexico, UTEP’s Anthony Rotich is the USTFCCCA Division I National Athlete of the Week. Rotich ran 14:59 to win the 5k (held at approximately 5000 feet) at New Mexico’s Lobo Invitational, giving him two consecutive wins to kick of his 2014 campaign. This marks the second year in a row that Rotich won the Lobo meet.
On the track, Rotich is the two-time defending steeplechase national champion; the last time he raced in Albuquerque, he won the mile at NCAA indoors. This is the second time Rotich has been named the USTFCCCA Athlete of the Week. UTEP returns to competition and the state of New Mexico in two weeks at the Kachina Classic.
Sophomore | Grand Rapids, Michigan
Schulist – unlike her fellow Spartans on the Michigan State football team, also in Eugene, Oregon, the next day – thrived in the late stages of the Oregon Bill Dellinger Invitational on Friday, cruising to her second season-opening win in as many seasons.
Battling temperatures in the 90s, the sophomore took the pace out early and gradually pulled away from teammate Leah O’Connor – herself an NCAA Champion in the steeplechase – and the rest of the field to cross the finish line of the 6k course on Pre’s Trail in 19:37.8. Her effort led the No. 6 Spartans to a dominant team win over Portland and a conservative No. 2 Oregon, 20-46-68.
After winning the Central Michigan Jeff Drenth Memorial to open her season a year ago, she went on to finish 50th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships and qualify to both indoor and outdoor NCAAs in track & field. She and the Spartans are back in action this weekend hosting the Auto Owners Spartan Invitational.
Sophomore | Highlands Ranch, Colorado
The first Division II men’s National Athlete of the Week of 2014 is Western State’s Keifer Johnson. The last winner for 2013 was Vergard Olstad, meaning that a Western State Mountaineer has won this award two times in a row. Johnson earned the honor for knocking off several Division I and II All-Americans in winning Friday’s Colorado State Invitational. He ran 14:30 for 5k in Fort Collins.
After finishing 60th at DII cross country nationals a year ago, Johnson was an All-American three times on the track this winter and spring. He and the No. 3-ranked Mountaineers race again on Saturday on their home course.
Sophomore | Whitehouse, Ohio
An All-American in cross country as a frosh a year ago, it’s clear Phelps is ready to pick up in 2014 right where she left off in 2013. Signs of a sophomore slump were nowhere to be found as she edged out No. 14 Edinboro’s Kasey Jones in a dramatic finish that came down to the line to claim the 5k title in 17:37.
The two women behind her, Jones and Rachel Magliane of Indiana (Pa.), were both top-75 finishers at the NCAA Championships a year ago, while the fourth-place woman, Emma Lehmann, was the top runner for team champion No. 5 Oberlin of Division III.
Though Phelps got the individual win, her Eagles fell just short in the team race to Oberlin, 45-50 – though they mirrored Phelps’ individual finish over Jones to edge No. 14 Edinboro, 50-51. They are back in action again at Michigan State’s Auto Owners Spartan Invitational this weekend.
Junior | Seattle, Washington
Hart Hornor of Carleton is the Division III National Athlete of the Week for his fourth-place performance at the Augustana (SD) Twilight Invitational. Competing under the lights on a course (check out this drone-shot video of the race) shy of four miles on Friday evening, Hornor ran 18:32 and defeated several Division II and NAIA All-Americans and national qualifiers. He would have been the No. 1 runner for DII nationally ranked No. 7 Augustana (SD) and No. 17 Sioux Falls, and the No. 2 for DI Midwest No. 9 Nebraska.
A 8:29/14:49 runner on the track, Hornor and his Knight teammates return to action on Saturday at Grinnell’s Les Duke Invitational.
Senior | Lincoln, Nebraska
Welcome back to cross country, Erin Statz. In her first fall race since finishing 22nd at the NCAA Championships in 2012 – an injury kept her out of outdoor track and cross country in 2013 – the senior showed the type of form that made her a national contender with a sixth-place overall showing at the Augustana (S.D.) Twilight Invitational in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Here are the stats on her performance: Competing against nearly 270 NCAA Division I, II and III and NAIA athletes, Statz covered the three-mile course under the lights in 16:32.98. She finished first among DIII competitors by 45 seconds, and was beat only by three Division I women, a top JUCO runner and a DII woman.
Her St. Thomas women were fifth of 14 squads in the team standings. They are next on the trails September 19 at the National Catholic Championships at Notre Dame.